Product Unfulfillment

A few posts back, I mused about problems product fulfillment in sg and promised a follow up. Here it is. The first order of business is to acknowledge there are certain flexibilities inadvertently built in to the informal system of product fulfillment that many sg artists and groups use. I was reminded of this by SL’s moving anecdote:

When my son was in the fourth grade, he and his class unfortunately experienced the death of a classmate. Total accident on a four-wheeler. Justin was a wonderful young boy with much potential. In southern terms, a good kid. His parents were not regular church attenders as is prominent in the south. Therefore, not fully aware of the realm of gospel music. Music has been a big part of my sanity, hope, faith, (whatever you choose to call it), since I was a child. My husband and I made a tape of songs that have the words that we felt they (his parents) needed at this time. One of those songs was by the McKamey’s - “God Will Make This Trial a Blessing” - I did not own this cassette so I called their office to buy one. I received the cassette very quickly. When I received the cassette I called the office again to say thanks for the prompt shipment and to share the reason I wanted the tape. Upon talking with The McKamey’s office, I found they had not intended on me paying for the cassette, it was a gift. I believe these people really know the Man of which they sing. I’m blessed each time I see and hear their music.

Though other artists in other genres could and probably do perform such acts of generosity, SL’s point is well taken. The informality of many product fulfillment systems reflects a broader informality in performers’ approach to fan relations.

Next up, some help from one of the first readers of the site, SR, whose experience and pithiness I can’t get enough of. Ever the helpful and generous one, SR agreed to do a kind of scouting report for me on the state of product fulfillment in sg. She’s got more than a little expertise in this kinda thing, so her words are better than mine here:

In an industry-wide survey of SG groups’ websites, I found a broad range of options for purchasing product from no mention whatsoever of product on the website to a highly functioning store tied to a PayPal account (that is, using PayPal’s purchase buttons which means that when a potential buyer clicks on the button to purchase, he/she is directed to the seller’s PayPal account - a way to do e-commerce without having to provide the whole sticky credit-card scenario) to a well-constructed store featuring several payment options and tracking features for purchases to a note: “if you would like to purchase any of our products, please call us at….” One of the most common features of all of these website product pages was a disclaimer - something to the effect of “Due to our travel schedule, please allow 1 to 4 weeks for delivery.”

In addition to surveying groups’ sites, I also examined the SG offerings on common e-commerce sites like Amazon.com, Half.com, cduniverse.com and towerrecords.com. All of these sites have some selection, but it is extremely irregular. For example, a site might carry Greater Vision’s newest project in CD but have none of the preceding projects. Another site might offer all BUT Gold City’s latest recording. And prices are generally what one would find in a smaller retail store like a local Christian bookstore; that is to say, there’s not much of a bargain to be had. The only benefit to purchasing from one of these mainstream sites is that at least you do buy with some sense of security about privacy and also with the knowledge that barring a backorder of some type, the product will be shipped quickly.

On a personal note, a friend purchased two CDs from the Perrys’ site, which features the aforementioned PayPal payment option. The CDs were delivered to me exactly five weeks after it was ordered (yes, they do have the disclaimer on their site). The really odd thing is that one week after I had received my CDs, the exact same two CDs were also delivered to the friend’s house. Apparently whomever is doing online fulfillment for the Perrys was not able to process the fact that someone ordered the products to be sent to another destination.

The fact is that if SG groups want to take advantage of the tremendous potential in e-commerce, they could definitely improve their chances by standardizing their online ordering and fulfillment processes. This doesn’t take much internet savvy, more of some careful thought and the ability to find a fulfillment source that is competent enough not to duplicate orders and to ship the items a little more quickly than five weeks after purchase. Even if a group has a small office staff or no extra hands who stay off the road, it is possible to find a way to include as a part of their site a functioning store with product offerings and at least one online payment method as well as shipping items regularly at least once a week. The current situation discourages anyone from ordering product online who needs it at a particular time for a special occasion, event, etc. Also very important is a valid contact for inquiries about products either pre-purchase or post-purchase. Even if a package tracking feature isn’t offered, a buyer should always be able to obtain some information about the status of his/her order.

There you have it. I like SR’s method, not least of all because it suggests the kind of heads-up approach that inexperienced e-shoppers need to hear. Cause let’s face it, if there are still people out there uncertain about how to safely shop online, it’ll probably disproportionately involve sg fans, no doubt searching for cassette tapes of some kind.

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